The European Institute for the Media–in cooperation with the EIM country representative to Armenia–Karen Martirosian–a monitoring team headed by media analyst Mark Grigorian–and Elizabeth Fuller (regional specialist for the Transcaucasus–Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty–Prague)–conducted a monitoring mission of media coverage of the Armenian presidential elections on behalf of the Human Rights and Democratization Program of the European Commission.
Below is the text of their findings:
Media coverage of the 1998 presidential elections was of a significantly higher standard than that of either the 1995 parliamentary or the 1996 presidential election campaigns. In this respect it is clear that the media shared the determination expressed by the Armenian leadership that the 1998 presidential elections should be free–fair and transparent–and that media coverage of the elections campaign should adhere to these principles.
The Central Electoral Commission ruled that the two candidates who qualified for the second round should be entitled to the same allocation of free and paid access in the state-controlled electronic and print media as during the first round. The formal campaign for the second round lasted 6 days (24-29 March). The press spokesmen for the two candidates agreed between themselves on the division of blocs of airtime between them.
Judging by the relative volume of airtime and print space devoted to the two candidates–the number of media outlets that supported Robert Kocharians candidacy was greater than that of those backing Karen Demirchian. The state-controlled media–both print and electronic–nonetheless made a clear effort to ensure that one candidate did not receive a disproportionately greater volume of editorial coverage than the other. This effort was all the more laudable in the light of the diverging strategies adopted by the two candidates in their relations with the media. Several editors made the point that while Robert Kocharians campaign staff sought the maximum interaction with the media in terms of press conferences–interviews and participation in roundtable discussions–Karen Demirchians staff demonstrated reticence and reluctance. This was reflected in the volume of information made available to the media.
There were marked differences among media outlets in their division of editorial coverage between the two candidates. For example–the first channel of state TV devoted 42,15 per cent of its editorial coverage to Kocharian and 16.65 per cent to Demirchian. The rest of the time was devoted to the election process as such. The Armenian-language official newspaper Hayastani Hanrepetutylun devoted 53.32 per cent of its coverage to Kocharian as compared to 37.79 per cent to his rival.
The degree of support for one or another candidate was reflected more clearly in the ration of positive/neutral/negative references to that candidate than in the actual volume of coverage that candidate received. Thus the two state TV channels–state radio and the two state-owned daily newspapers–Hayastani Hanrapetutyun and its Russian-language counterpart Respublika Armeniya referred to Kocharian in positive terms far more frequently than to Demirchian–while the number of neutral references to the two candidates was similar. For example–130 of a total of 577 reference on National radio (channel 1) to Kocharian were positive and 416 neutral–while only 58 of a total of 460 references to Demirchian were positive–64 – negative and 338 – neutral.
Both print and electronic media endeavored to provide during the second round the sort of differentiated comparative analysis of the two candidates programs that had been lacking during the first round of the campaign. State-controlled and private TV stations–for their part–invited both candidates–or members of their campaign staff–to participate in televised debates. The number of such debates that actually took place was–however–limited by the fact that while Kocharians campaign staff agree to participate–Demirchian reportedly set sweeping preconditions for participating in such discussions on state television.
National television (channel 1) failed–however–on several occasions to differentiate clearly between paid and free access for one or the other candidate.
For example–a bloc allocated to Demirchian on 27–28 and 29 March was immediately followed by a short cartoon film satirizing Demirchians tenure as Armenian Communist Party First Secretary.
This latter segment was not clearly designated as time allocated to Kocharian. In a 30 March meeting with the monitoring team–the executive director of National NT of Armenia explained that he had issued explicit instructions to his staff prior to the first round to be meticulous in differentiating between free and paid access–but had failed to reiterate those instructions during the second round–which he admitted was a mistake.
Press spokesmen for both candidates complained to the monitors that the media had perpetrated violations of ethical norms by the opposing camp. Demirchians press spokesman–for example–told the monitoring team–that on several occasions coverage of his candidates campaign activities on the nightly news broadcasts on National TV (channel 1) were selective to the point of being misleading. It is–however–impossible to determine to what extent this tendency reflects lack of professionalism on the part of the TV journalists involved–who were working under considerable time pressure.
The shortcomings noted above underscore the need for an ongoing effort on the part of the media to improve professional standards in general and specifically–their approach to election coverage. This effort would be facilitated by the adoption of new legislation–both on Broadcasting and on the print media–that would strengthen the autonomy of state television and radio and of the broadcast and print media in general–and thus enable them to play a more effective role in building a democratic society.
Presidential candidates–editors and political commentators similarly told the monitoring team that a new election law is required that would clarify contradictions and ambiguities in the existing legislation.
The European Institute for the Media (EIM)–in cooperation with the EIM country representative to Armenia–Karen Martirosian–a monitoring team headed by media analyst Mark Grigorian–and Elizabeth Fuller (regional specialist for the Transcaucasus–Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty–Prague)–has conducted the monitoring mission of media coverage of the Armenian presidential elections on behalf of the Human Rights and Democratization Program of the European Commission.
The mission began on February 23–1998 and continued until midnight on 29 March–the day before the second round of voting. The monitoring operation focused on the following aspects:
Interviews with presidential candidates or their press spokesmen; An assessment of the regulatory framework for media coverage of the elections; A quantitative analysis–conducted by Mark Grigorian–of relevant reporting by all major broadcast and press media outlets; A qualitative analysis of the general situation of the Armenian media–on the basis of interviews with selected media professionals–with the assistance of Boris Navasardian–President of the Yerevan Press Club and his team.